Holly Weiskopff, 43, became a vegetarian 30 years ago after giving up meat for Lent. but she still ate plenty of pasta, fried food, and baked goods. Then in 2012, she lost her father to cancer. It prompted her to give veganism a try. Holly had lost more relatives to the disease, and she decided to go vegan as a way of wresting greater control over her health and well-being. It was a watershed moment, and allowed her to also do something else she had always wanted to try for the sake of her health: Give running a chance.

Now, seven years later, the Syracuse mother-of-three is still going strong, crediting her plant-based lifestyle with helping her build more endurance and get into better shape than she was in her twenties. Since eliminating meat, dairy, and eggs from her diet, and got fitter and stronger as she trained. Weiskopff, a teacher, has now completed six marathons, 15 half marathons, three triathlons, a handful of 5Ks, and even more trail races. Here's the story of how she's trying to outrun her family's medical history.

It all started during Lent, when I was a girl

"When I was 13, I heard some people talking about giving up meat for the environment and for animals. It sounded like something I wanted to try, so I gave it up for Lent. That was the reason why my parents agreed to it, but then I just kept ongoing. I never ate meat again because it just felt better to me.

"That was 30 years ago. My parents didn't think it could be healthy. They were very worried about me getting enough protein. And, obviously, I was young so I wasn't making my own dinners. My mom felt like it was a hassle. There weren't a lot of vegetarian options back then so it was definitely more challenging. I wasn't the healthiest either because I was still eating a lot of cheese and dairy products.

Then I lost my father to cancer in 2012.

"Pretty much everyone on that side of my family has had cancer. I also have heart disease on the other side of my family. So, when I watched a documentary called Forks Over Knives that talked a lot about the health benefits of plant-based eating, I decided to do a cleanse where I just ate plant-based for a couple of months. I thought I would go back to being a vegetarian afterward and maybe just eat vegan a couple of days a week.

I felt so much better after I gave up dairy and eggs.

"I went on a cruise for vacation and they were very accommodating. It opened my eyes to a lot of different foods and I realized eating vegan wasn't really that hard. Now that I was off of all meat and dairy, it felt like I had all this energy, so I started running and just kept going. I never really had it in my head that I was going to do this forever, but it's been almost seven years now. 

It really became a lifestyle for me.

"I started doing more research about what the animal and agricultural industry are doing to the environment and what the reality is for animals. In my head, I was thinking, “Well, I don't eat animals so that's fine.” Then I started learning more about cosmetics and clothes. When you look at the dairy and egg industry, you realize these animals are being tortured. So there were all of these angles – the ethical and health benefits – that just reaffirmed everything for me. 

Because of Forks Over Knives, I was excited to try being vegan.

"I started reading books and watching other documentaries after Forks Over Knives. That was just the catalyst for me. It's what made me excited to try being vegan. Then I sustained it because of all the information I was getting about the dairy and agricultural industry. I definitely got pushback from family and friends questioning, “Why is this going to be healthy? Are you going to get too skinny? Are you going to be malnourished?” 

But I  became so much healthier.

"I started eating whole foods and more vegetables. Not that I didn't eat vegetables before, but I was eating more plants and cooking more. That's also when I started running. I had worked out before, but I ran my first 5K right after I went vegan. Within a year, I started doing half marathons. Then, not even two years later, I started doing marathons and triathlons. I just felt like my endurance was better. My recovery was better. I was able to do more as I was getting older. So this definitely changed my life.

When I was in my twenties, I didn't have the energy that I do now.

"I remember after I had my third child, I was pretty much back at my normal weight and never really got heavy. I was teaching at a school where there were a couple of flights of stairs. So I'd be running up those stairs all day, and I'd get out of breath. I was 29 years old. It was a wake-up call. I didn't have a weight problem, but I knew I shouldn't be feeling that way. 

Once I went vegan, working out was so much easier.

"I felt like I had more energy. The recovery was easier. And, honestly, I'm not tempted to eat a lot of junk food because I have to plan ahead. I can't eat the cake in the staff room because I have to be a little more conscious of what I eat so I definitely think that helps. 

I don't consider myself to be an amazing chef

"When it comes to cooking, the simpler the better for me. In the winter, I love making different soups. I do a lot of Buddha bowls where you just pile in roasted veggies and rice and beans. I like Mexican food so I'll make Mexican bowls with onions, corn, and rice or I'll make vegetarian chili. I like making big batches of one-pot meals for dinner so I can have leftovers for lunch at work during the week. 

My life has completely changed since becoming vegan.

"I have a lot more energy. I started doing more endurance sports so it helps me with running and swimming and biking. Racing has definitely become a huge hobby for me. Because I'm vegan, I'm more conscious of what I eat so I feel better about the choices that I'm making. 

The best advice I have for anybody thinking about going vegan:

"It's s it's not as hard as you think. You'll go through an adjustment period. There are foods that you might give up but there are also new foods you'll discover that you will like even more. The benefits definitely outweigh any inconvenience. It's just worth it.

The Beet wants to hear from you! Want to share your story of how going plant-based or vegan changed your life? We would LOVE to hear your story about how you transformed your health. Please send us a write-up and make sure to cover the following. (Send pics and date them, please! Everyone loves a "before" and "after".)

  1. What made you start eating plant-based?
  2. How did it change or improve your health?
  3. Was there a moment when it was hard? When it became easy?
  4. What is the number one tip you'd give other people who want to try it?
  5. How do you like to think about it now...Do you have a philosophy?